Fashion demigod Karl Lagerfeld, creative director for Fendi and Chanel, passed away in Paris at age 85 days before his Fendi runway show in Milan.
Waking up to a stream of in-memoriam posts flowing through my news feed brought a smoldering sadness, one that comes when you lose a role model or distant mentor. Lagerfeld resurrected a chic style while bringing a new wave of femininity from the dark ages of fashion. He was not human. He felt no human feelings. His eyes cried diamonds, his skin was coarse like tweed, and when he bled, you could smell Chanel No. 5 under his skin. He didn’t just create fashion, but drained, sliced and stitched fashion into himself. He and fashion became one, but can one survive without the other?
Lagerfeld not only changed the image of fashion houses on the brink of obscurity, but also the way people interpreted clothing and fashion. At 17, he became an assistant for Pierre Balmain, and eventually became a freelance designer in modern fashion houses. After the death of Coco Chanel in 1971, the notorious fashion powerhouse began to diminish, until Lagerfeld became creative director for the House of Chanel in 1983.
The House of Chanel craved a new image, a vision to connect women back to the brand. He did just that, permanently tattooing his name onto the brand by reinventing its image with his tweed power suits, elaborate runway venues, and a new perspective of powerful, feminine energy in fashion. Even though heconfessed that “(Coco) would have hated (what he had done with Chanel),” the fashion and non-fashion world watched in amazement and reverence.
In 1984, he launched his own brand, Karl Lagerfeld, and made his own personal aesthetic as iconic as the clothes he produced. His sleek, metallic ponytail and dark shades created an iconic profile. His uniform was comprised of highly starched, high-neck collars, blazers in a rainbow of dark shades, and flawlessly impractical fingerless gloves. His women didn’t have to be rich or luxurious to look chic, nor did they have to wear the most elaborate or dramatic dress in the room, but they were confident. They were eternal, and carried a strong, effortless energy like a handbag, just like him.
“He was a ‘fashion nymphomaniac,’ and a supernatural being who proved that fashion could feel like an out-of-body experience.”
Lagerfeld’s don’t-give-a-damn attitude toward fashion standards and the sensitivity of others made him one of the most authentic and organic presences in the sometimes deceitful realm of fashion — “I am a joke of myself,” he once said. His words uttered free verse poetry, even when he called selfies “electronic masturbation” and mocked that “sweatpants are a sign of defeat … (that) you lost control of your life.” They spoke to every sleep-deprived fashion wannabe and Diet Coke-addicted journalist that you should look and feel priceless, and desire to be legendary.
The first time I saw a pair of Chanel shoes was in Bergdorf Goodman, my eyes overlooking the price tag and grazing over the two-toned pumps. The design was easy, but complex and beautiful, like the little black dress that emerged from Coco Chanel’s equally extraterrestrial genius. I remember loitering in a thrift store in South Carolina and discovering a Karl Lagerfeld Ready-To-Wear piece of art: an iconic black tweed jacket marked down to a near-thievery price. I wore it for a week straight, not because it was my favorite or most comfortable jacket, but because of the way the jacket molded into armor over my skin. I saw success in myself, as my eye would glance over at my reflection in the neighboring window. “Don’t dress to kill, dress to survive” — something that Lagerfeld wanted every woman to feel, including the person who wore my jacket prior, and even myself.
Fashion will sadly move on, but it has momentarily stopped, and it holds its breath. After his death, Chanel announced that Virginie Viard, the house’s studio director, would take Lagerfeld’s place as creative director. No word has been released on who will succeed Lagerfeld’s creative director position at Fendi. For now, we will grieve, not just those that knew and loved him, but those who looked up to him as their father of fashion, and undying inspiration. He was a “fashion nymphomaniac,” and a supernatural being who proved that fashion could feel like an out-of-body experience.